In the new issue of mental_floss magazine, Ethan Trex answers The Biggest Questions of 2009. All this week, he'll be answering additional questions of various sizes here on the blog.
Does Google have a vast city of servers out there somewhere?
Not quite. Google does need a mind-boggling number of servers to answer all those search queries, but they're not all socked away in a single location. Instead, they're spread out in data centers around the world, some of which are quite large. Google is notoriously tight-lipped with information about these data centers, so it's hard to say exactly how many of them are scattered around the globe. There might be 35 or so, and there might be many more. Google is similarly cagey with details about exactly how many servers it has, but estimates place the number at several hundred thousand servers at the very least.
In 2005, the search giant started construction on a server center in The Dalles, Oregon. The project called for a complex of three buildings, each as large as a football field, that would be crammed with servers held together with tape and Velcro. The Dalles' location on the Columbia River and proximity to cheap electricity is a serious financial consideration for Google. A server center that large generates a lot of heat requires an energy-sucking cooling system. A 2008 story about the center in Harper's reported that the servers require a half-watt of cooling for every watt they use computing, which necessitates large cooling towers and makes the center a huge energy drain. The same Harper's story pointed out that when the plant is totally completed, it will pull in 103 megawatts of electricity, roughly enough to power 82,000 homes—the equivalent of a city the size of Tacoma.
That facility is large, but it's not the only project Google's been working on. In 2007 the company chose Lenoir, North Carolina, as the site for a new $600 million data center. Not surprisingly, part of the reason Google chose the fairly obscure city was its bargain-priced electricity and reliable power grid. Last year, Google spent a similar amount on a new server facility in Goose Creek, South Carolina. Other sites, like one in Council Bluffs, Iowa, should be operational later this year, while the economy has reportedly delayed construction on a $600 million data center in Pryor, Oklahoma.
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